Hurricane Ike: Providers answer another call to duty

Sunday, September 21, 2008

HOUSTON - A week after Hurricane Ike swept the coast of Texas and barreled north, providers, some still without phones and electricity, were going to great lengths to continue caring for patients.

At Pro2 Respiratory Services in Cincinnati, where Ike's remnants delivered 69 mph winds, all employees, from the president on down, were distributing oxygen cylinders to patients.

"A number of our employees have been out from sunrise to sunset every day for the past five days," said John Reed, executive vice president and COO for Pro2, on Friday.

Ike, a Category 2 hurricane, crashed into the Houston-Galveston area on Sept. 12, resulting in massive power outages and flooding. Still packing hurricane-like winds, its remnants reached states like Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

In addition to having all hands on deck, providers waited in long lines at gas stations to fill their delivery trucks. Some struggled to get oxygen cylinders filled by distributors that were also without electricity.

"We almost ran out," said Bruce Cook, operations manager for American Medical Equipment in Houston, which was without power until Sept. 15. "We were down to 45 cylinders on Tuesday."

One of American Medical's delivery techs lost his home in the storm, so it was down one tech.

Premier Home Care in Louisville, Ky., was driving empty cylinders to Lexington, about 55 miles east, to get them refilled.

"Since Sunday, our staff has been working 16-hour days to support home oxygen patients," said Wayne Knewasser, the public relations officer for Premier. "We're starting to get a handle on it."

At The Wheelchair Shop in Houston, before electricity was restored on Sept. 15, employees were working by window-light. They used a generator to charge wheelchair batteries and retrieved calls using an offsite voice mail messaging system.

Employees at The Wheelchair Shop were taking care of not only patients but also each other.

"We've been pooling our resources," said Nancy Rice, who owns The Wheelchair Shop with her husband, Paul. "The grocery stores and restaurants still aren't open, so everyone's bringing food to work. We were grilling the first day we were open."

In other hurricane-related news:

Cigna Government Services, the DME MAC for Jurisdiction C, issued the following FAQ following Hurricane Ike:

Question: On October 14, 2005, in response to Hurricane Katrina, CMS issued Change Request 4106, "National Modifier and Condition Code To Be Used To Identify Disaster Related Claims." May these modifiers and condition codes be used for this emergency's-related claims?
Answer: Yes.

Question: Does CMS provide any payments for durable medical equipment damaged during a disruptive event?
Answer: Payment can be made for DME that has been repaired or replaced if the DME was damaged as part of a disruptive even related to the emergency.

Question: How can people with Medicare who have been displaced and who are without access to their usual suppliers get access to durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies (DMEPOS) such as wheelchairs and therapeutic shoes?
Answer: Beneficiaries who have access to a telephone may contact 1-800-Medicare for information regarding suppliers serving their current location. Alternatively, if beneficiaries have access to the Internet, they may go to the following website to obtain a directory listing suppliers by geography, proximity and name:

Question: Are accelerated or advance payments available for providers whose practices and/or businesses were severely affected by the existing emergency related to the emergency?
Answer: For providers who are still rendering some services or who are taking steps to be able to render services again, accelerated or advance payments may be available. Providers in this position should contact their fiscal intermediary, carrier, or MAC for details.

Awake in America, a Philadelphia nonprofit, has launched "Operation Restore CPAP," a relief program that replaces, at no cost, CPAP or bi-level devices destroyed as a result of disasters like Hurricane Ike.